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This year marks the 175th annual Munich celebration of beer, brauts and general German goodness known as Oktoberfest, which starts September 20 and runs through October 5. The Lord Mayor of Munich taps the first barrel of the strong, dark, special Wiesn beer and cannons are fired. The first day is marked by a procession of publicans and brewers, and no motorized vehicles are permitted. Through the official web site (www.oktoberfest.de) you can view the photos of the festival, sign up for an e-newsletter, and preorder your souvenirs -- hats, pins, steins, and the like -- for this year's festivities. There is also some practical information listed under FAQs, such as how to book seats through individual tents, along with how to get there by car, public transit, etc. With nearly six million people in attendance, it's best to get to the tents before noon, making Oktoberfest probably one of the only experiences in which it is advisable and socially acceptable to start drinking in the morning. Without a seat, waitresses cannot serve you beer. If you're traveling on your own with a group of ten or more people, it's necessary to make a reservation. But it's also becoming increasingly difficult to come by spots at tents, which you can do by viewing the tents category on the Oktoberfest web site; nevertheless, you may want to try Empire Tickets (tel. 800/725-0112; www.empiretickets.com), to buy your tickets for beer tents.

The official tourism site for Germany (tel. 800/651-7010; www.cometogermany.com) can give you a good overview of the festival. There are some links to tour packagers but prices are not cheap and, and provides you links to packagers such as Avanti Destinations (tel. 888/274-7245; www.avantidestinations.com), which is offering a three-night stay at the K&K Am Harras in Munich, along with hop-on, hop-off sightseeing tour, daily continental breakfast, and hotel taxes and service charges for $1,421 for two people, or roughly $711 per person. There is a three-night minimum but you can book longer reservations if desired and available. The price quoted reflects festival dates September 28-October 5. The company says that two others, the Hotel Brunnenhof and Hotel Mueller, also show availability, but that K&K is the best value.

Additionally, the Munich tourism site (www.muenchen.de) can help you find places to stay if you can't find a room in the city of Munich itself or don't want to pay the stiff price; nearby campgrounds Obermenzing (tel. 089/811-2235; www.campingplatz-muenchen.de) and Thalkirchen (tel. 089/723-1797; www.camping.muenchen.de) are popular choices. Additionally, the city of Munich sets up extra spaces for those lumbering into town by motorhome.

For a beer-centric excursion, Beer Trips (tel. 406/531-9109; www.beertrips.com) goes to Central Europe for Oktoberfest, with stops in Prague, Bamberg, Eck, and Munich. The trip is slated for departure September 18-28 from $2,995 per person, land only. Details include nine nights in centrally located hotels, travel by private coach, rail and public transportation, and brewery visits and beer tastings. In terms of meals, breakfast every day is included, and four dinners (with beer) and three beer lunches are also part of the fee. Airfare is not included, but the company is happy to help you arrange your flight details. The deadline to sign up is August 18, and at publication time there were still eight slots left.

In terms of city packages, Go-Today (tel. 800/227-3235; www.gotoday.com) is offering a Munich Getaway priced from $959 for travel September 1 through October 25, as long as you book by August 21. The price includes airfare and thee nights of accommodations in a standard room in the tourist class Atrium hotel, which is situated on a side street not far from the train station and Theresienwiese. The price is calculated based on departures from Newark, NJ or New York-JFK and also includes daily breakfast, hotel taxes and service charges and airline fuel surcharges; other cities are possible for additional fees.

Gate 1 Travel (tel. 800/682-3333; www.gate1travel.com) has an 8-Day Munich, Salzburg and Vienna by rail available through late October, which includes roundtrip flights from New York to Munich and Vienna back to New York, with airline fuel surcharges, two nights in each city apiece, and transportation from one city to the next by first class or standard rail, depending on your preference. The trip is priced from $1,119 for air and land, or $699 for land only. Departures during Oktoberfest -- the best bet is September 25 -- starts at $1,469. Or you can choose the flexible package and create your own itinerary and departure date.

Ludus Tours (tel. 866/343-6133; www.ludustours.com) organizes trips to the world's top cultural festivals and sporting events, including Oktoberfest. Three-night packages for September 19-22, 26-29 and October 3-6 start at 795€ per person (about $1,230 US) for accommodations, which includes accommodations at three or four-star hotels within walking distance of the grounds, airport transfers, German buffet breakfast, beer tent reservations, an orientation tour of the city, Neuschwanstein Castle Tour, and 24-hour tour assistance from Ludus. Although it is based in the U.S., the company started charging in Euros because most of its costs are in that currency and it fluctuates, says Lldus event manager Ashley Blake.

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